The best metro systems in the world

Published 2023-10-14 08:34:04
The Tube in London - Photo by Joël de Vriend on Unsplash

Underground train systems have historically always been an inexpensive and convenient mode of transport. An efficient and reliable metro network is vital to commuters, especially in major cities with a staggeringly high volume of passengers.

This article is the first part of a series on the top contenders for the best metro systems globally. You will find additional cities with also noticeable suburban transport systems in our second article.

London, the oldest

The London Underground rail network, also known as "the Tube," is an easy and convenient way to travel around central London and the surrounding areas. It is one of the oldest at 150 years and was established in January 1863.

The sprawling network handles commuters from all over the city of London including some surrounding areas. It comprises 11 lines and during the period 2017-2018 had a whopping 1.357 billion travellers. The rail network is split into nine zones of which zone one is central London.

Stations are usually accessed by staircases or escalators with only a few stations having step-free access. Timings differ depending on the line. Most services work between 5 am to midnight with some extending timings over the weekend for a few lines only.

All trains are now climate-controlled, some train stations have been upgraded to include wifi and ticketing is now contactless. Ticket prices depend on how far you’re travelling, if it's at peak travel times, the type of ticket required and how you pay for it. An Oyster card is one of the cheapest ways to pay for passage.

The tube’s newest line, the Elizabeth Line, covers over 100 km and has 41 stations that have step-free access. 

Hong Kong, the most profitable

Metro in Hong Kong - Image by lifeforstock on Freepik

Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system has been serving the denizens of Hong Kong for the past thirty years –it is almost an infant when compared with some of the other rail systems, like London’s underground.

It is operated by MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) and the network is comprised of both light and heavy rail plus the feeder bus service. Commuters from Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories are the main users of the 11-line rapid transit network. There are approximately 3.4 million passengers daily.

The MTR network has about 218.2 km (135.6 miles) of rail which passes through 159 stations. Every component of this rail system is very clean, transport is cheap, reliable and regular, and stations and trains well signposted.

The modern rail network means that stations are equipped with modern necessities like Wifi, the ticket systems are automated and a well-designed layout means commuters can access every part of the city easily and efficiently.

Added conveniences are the tactile flooring and Braille plates for travellers with disabilities. Some stations are outfitted with shops, fast food outlets and banks, while others have these facilities close to exits.

A single purchase of an Octopus card, the Tube’s equivalent of London’s Oyster card, gives you access to the MTR, Airport Express, Light Rail, buses and ferries. The built-in chip in the card can simply be tapped over the reader to gain access to the network. There are different Octopus cards for adults, pensioners, and kids. 

Metro Rail News has published a ranking of world metro systems and Hong Kong is number one in profitability.  

Tokyo, the most efficient

Metro in Tokyo - Image by jcomp on Freepik

Tokyo’s metro system is arguably one of the most efficient. Trains are fast and punctual. The subway is made up of 2 components: the Tokyo Metro and the Toei Subway which covers the Greater Tokyo area of Japan. The 2 components are well interlinked.

The network is extensive and extends further out into the suburban railway lines. There are about 102 lines which transport approximately 14 billion passengers annually.

Passengers have easy access to maps which are located all over, both in English and Japanese.

There are a few options for tickets depending on the passenger's needs:

  1. Common One-day Ticket for Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway buys you unlimited trips for a single day for use on the Toei and Tokyo Metro subways. They can be bought from vending machines or ticket offices.
  2. The Tokyo Combination Ticket gives you access to unlimited trips for a single day on the Toei and Tokyo Metro subways, including JR (Japan Rail) trains and Toei buses.
  3. Pasmo or Suica cards are prepaid cards that can be swiped over card readers to gain entry or leave the system. These are sold at vending machines all over the city, including airports. They are convenient and easy to use and can be used in some stores, as well.

Moscow, the most beautiful

Metro in Moscow - Image by falco on Pixabay

Moscow’s metro is one of the busiest rail networks in the world and can transport more than 8 million passengers daily.

The Moscow rail system may not be modern and very efficient but it is ornate and grand reflecting tsarist palaces.. Train stations in Moscow are architecturally beautiful and ornate and can be easily mistaken for museums or historic palaces. Visitors to the Russian capital are encouraged to experience the metro network which has marble corridors, beautiful frescoes and sculptures to reflect the history of the city and the metro. However, the newer-built stations are less glamorous

The Moscow Metro comprises 17 lines which have a total length of 246 miles (397 km). These lines have over 265 stations.

There are now automated machines selling tickets to avoid long queues. Tickets are paper cards that are tapped at card readers giving you access to the system.

Cities prioritize their public transport systems, particularly their metro systems as train technology rapidly evolves, and older networks with heavy maintenance requirements struggle to keep up with demand and maintain profitability. The latter has been a challenge to many rail networks since the pandemic when people worked from home and cities were in lockdown.

We continue looking at remarkable metro systems worldwide in our next article

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for

For other discussions, advice, question, point of view, get together, etc...: please use the forum.

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